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SA WOMEN'S ARTS FESTIVAL 2004 (article first published : 2004-07-29)

In its eighth annual celebration of women through the arts, The Playhouse Company's Women's Arts Festival takes place at the Playhouse from August 6 to 9.Celebrating women, their creativity, talents and strengths, the Fesival offers an exciting variety of dance, drama and music, as well as a conference, all at low ticket prices for greater accessibility.

The Festival starts on a musical note on August 6 at 18h00, with Karen van Pletsen appearing in a beguiling selection of jazz and blues standards. Powerful and popular, Van Pletsen has won acclaim from critics and audiences alike for her electric command of repertoire and her strongly-distinctive vocal personality. Her potent audience impact guarantees entertainment with a capital ‘E'. Entrance to the show is free.

In a major scoop for The Playhouse Company, the Festival's annual Gala Concert this year features international super-stars, Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya. Emmy Award-winning Letta Mbulu first shot to international fame in the all-African production of the hit musical King Kong. After several world tours with Harry Belafonte, she has performed in many countries in her solo capacity. Her outstanding performance in Quincy Jones's Roots, the highest-rated television show of its kind at the time, won her a coveted Emmy Award and a Gold Record. Mbulu's career has encompassed not only live performances and recordings, but also a myriad of related activities, such as film, television, acting and narration. One of South Africa's foremost musical directors and composers, Caiphus Semenya has composed and arranged songs for the likes of Nina Simone, Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley, Lou Rawls, Herp Alpert and his wife, Letta Mbulu. Nominated for an Oscar for his work on the soundtrack to Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple, Semenya has had a long and fruitful musical relationship with Quincy Jones, winning a Grammy Award for the title track to Jones's album Back on the Block in 1991. Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya are two of South Africa's most celebrated arts and culture ambassadors, revered and respected worldwide for their dedication to South Africa and to the African continent.

MCs for the Gala Concert are Vicky Masuku from Ukhozi FM, and Krijay Govender. And, for the first time, three outstanding women will receive awards on the night of the Concert. Awards will be presented in the categories Woman in Business, Woman in the Arts, and Woman of the Community. Each award will pay tribute to a woman who has achieved success in her own field, but also made a significant difference in her community, inspiring others to do the same. The women selected will have been in service for at least the past ten years, and are respected as pioneers in their fields. The Gala Concert is on August 8 at 19h00 in the Playhouse Opera Theatre. Tickets R55.

All-female Afro-jazz band, Malkia, will keep the party mood alive after the Gala Concert with a free show in the Coffee Shop area. Malkia, meaning ‘queen' in Swahili, comprises Norma Mbatha, Charity Lesuthu and Makhosi Mbatha. These fresh, dynamic young women, who also venture into Maskhanda music, perform original compositions in Swahili, Tsonga, Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu and English, in a highly-entertaining show featuring eye-catching costumes and energetic dance.

On the dance scene, the Festival features nine companies in a mixed bill of dance on August 6 and 7. Choreographed and performed by Desire Davids and Gladys Agulhus, WOMEN … fragile, courage, dignity, grace, beauty, beneath her soul … Strength is an exploration of women, a tribute to women, in a celebration of being a woman. Desire Davids, whose energies are now directed towards her dance theatre collaboration with Boyzie Cekwana, is particularly well-known to Durban audiences for her work with the Playhouse Dance Company. She has won numerous awards, including the FNB Dance Umbrella, Dance Indaba and Jomba awards, and has worked in a number of countries around the world, including Denmark, Madagascar, Sweden, Reunion, Mozambique and all over Europe. Well-known as a choreographer and dancer, Gladys Agulhas and her company, Agulhas Theatre Works, are based in Johannesburg.

Durban's cutting-edge Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company will present Dying Swan Trilogy, a contemporary take on Anna Pavlova's world-renowned classic, The Dying Swan. Choreographed by David Gouldie and Mark Hawkins (after Fokine), the piece will be performed by Louise Fraquet, Angela Lardant and Jann Esterhuizen.

Gender-roles and relationships, from the friendly to the abusive, are the focus of the Phenduka Dance Theatre's Any Kind, choreographed by Ondine Bello. Yogambal Singaram's Pulse of India fuses Bharatha Natyam and Indian drumming in a portrayal of the many roles of the women who bring colour, grace, beauty and attention to detail to ordinary, day-to-day life.

Flatfoot Dance Company will perform Lately, choreographed by Marise Kyd. Based in the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Drama and Performance Studies Programme, Flatfoot has been performing and training contemporary dance for ten years. Inspired by Phil Collins's Another Day In Paradise, Dance Direction's On the Street highlights the plight of the many women who turn to prostitution for survival. Moving and passionate, the piece has been choreographed by Des van der Spuy.

Jabulani - SA - Celebrate!, is a musical-dance production written and directed by Edmund Mhlongo with Christopher Majozi, and performed by the 26-member K-Cap Alive Kids. Celebrating South Africa's achievements since 1994 and the country's natural splendour, the piece is a story of survival, diversity and miracles that blends African music, poetry, drama and dance styles, and features a six-piece band. Siwela Sonke Dance Company will perform Breathing Cycles choreographed by Eric Shabalala, the work draws on the strength of women within their families. The performances will take place on August 6 and 7 at 19h00. Tickets R25.

Two double-bills and a children's show comprise the Festival's drama component. Mary … the Unfaithful Woman and Lutchmee's Story are featured on August 7 at 14h30 in the Sanlam Loft. Robust and fast-paced, Mary … the Unfaithful Woman stars Dieketseng Mnisi, Daniel Mooi and Chief Siboa in a darkly comic drama that turns the tables on domestic abuse. Directed by Jullian Seleke-Mokoto, the play received critical acclaim at Johannesburg's Windybrow Theatre, and has been performed in Grahamstown, Botswana and at various other South African venues. Adhis Chetty's Lutchmee's Story challenges the rationalisation of the sexual repression of women through religion, and establishes a link between current constructions of gender and the spread of HIV/AIDS. While criticizing gender-related behavioural norms, Lutchmee's Story succeeds in celebrating human love in all it's expressions, and features a colourful, disparate array of characters performed by Sushila Herd.

Beast and No More Silence make up the drama double-bill on August 8 at 14h30 in the Sanlam Loft. A hard-hitting piece by Zimbabwean playwright Bart Wolffe, Beast turns the mirror on the hidden selves to reveal the beast within most people. This exciting theatre experience -- risky for both actor and audience --is performed by the R.I.T.E. (Research in Theatre Education) Company, a laboratory company made up of graduates who focus on theatrical research, and led by Artistic Director, Debbie Lutge. Directed by Thulile Bhengu, and featuring Andile Mngadi, Beast promises to provoke debate, elicit a touch of discomfort and, most of all, to entertain. No More Silence, directed by Sifiso Mthethwa, with music by Mlungu Mthembu, focuses on children breaking the silence of abuse. Performed by a cast of children, the piece blends drama, dance and song. Tickets R15 for each double-bill.

On August 9 at 10h00 in the Grand Foyer, Pet's Tale is guaranteed to entertain children of all ages. Featuring storyteller and clown Adi Paxton, puppeteer Pamela Tancsik and DIT Drama graduate, Zanele Mzolo, Pet's Tale is a “shaggy dog” story in which the audience helps ‘Petrick' (or ‘Pet') to find a home. Along the way, they meet a bush baby, an uppity giraffe and a zany parrot in a fun-filled show that combines mime, puppetry, storytelling and magic. Pet's Tale is directed by Brenda Lauth, and has been invited to Germany and Austria in October. Entrance is free.

Also taking place on Women's Day (August 9) at 10h00 in the Drama Theatre is the annual Women's Festival Conference. Women involved in the arts, craft, business, the media and other fields will come together to vigorously debate a range of issues concerning women and the arts. All interested members of the public are invited to participate. Crafts will be on sale in the Drama Theatre foyer during the Conference.

Advance bookings for Festival performances can be made at Computicket, or call 031 369 9444 to book by credit card. For further information, please call Charlene Moodley Bezuidenhout on 031 369 9455. E-mail: charlenemb@playhousecompany.com




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